Adult day program honors its ‘Maggie’

Margaret Shea dedicated most of her professional life to keeping seniors out of nursing homes as she led and lobbied for a program that offers a homey space where they can receive nursing care as well as sing, do crafts, and share daily meals with friends.

For the 23 years that Shea worked at Mattapan Adult Day Health, she was not only a nurse and director to the elderly and disabled clients, but also a friend who made them laugh, threw parties for them, and helped them find renewed zest for life.

On Tuesday, a year after she retired as director, officials announced that the program would be renamed the Margaret M. Shea R.N. Adult Day Health Program. And the program’s new facility, for which Shea fought for many years, is now The Margaret M. Shea Center.

“After giving a lot of her life to the program, we all thought it was a due honor,” said Deborah Agati, who took over as program director following Shea’s retirement.

Mattapan Adult Day Health offers a place for Mattapan and Dorchester seniors and adults with physical or mental disabilities to receive nursing care and other services along with opportunities to socialize and participate in a variety of activities. The program aims to help them live on their own or with family, instead of in a nursing home, for as long as possible.

And administrators say it is much more cost-effective than a nursing home for people who aren’t able to be completely independent yet don’t need 24-hour medical care.

Still, the program has always been threatened because it relies heavily on public funding, administrators said. In addition to the work Shea did within the walls of the program, she frequently contacted state legislators to convince them of the worth and need for the program.

Until two years ago, the program was located in the crumbling Boston Specialty and Rehabilitation Hospital in Mattapan. Program staff said they’d urge clients and families to look past the peeling paint and leaking roof to see the wonderful work that was taking place inside. For years, Shea, the community, and her staff were on the watch for a better, more suitable facility.

Finally, in 2008 the program moved into its new 5,000-square-foot space on the grounds of the old hospital, a transition made possible by donations from Trinity Financial and Boston Medical Center, Shea said. The new space is light and bright and offers more space for private nursing consultations.

The program served about 18 to 25 clients per day in the old space and is now at capacity, serving 42 on most days, Agati said.
Tuesday’s renaming and celebration came as a surprise to Shea, who thought she was coming to work a shift as a per diem nurse. As she wiped away tears, she made her way around the room, greeting each client by name, embracing them, inquiring about their health, and commenting about their spruced-up party attire. “Look at you!” she exclaimed to one client. To another she said, “You’ve got to hang in, you can’t give up.”

“She’s made such a big difference,” said Darlene Bowman, a social worker for the program. “It makes a life for the clients. Everyone is so alive. I learned that from Maggie.”

But despite all her efforts, Shea isn’t one to seek credit.
“To her, the heroes were always the clients,” Agati said. “They had difficulties in life and they kept going. They kept her going. She always said she couldn’t have done it without them.”